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Summary: "There are two things I'd fight to the death for. My sister and my home, in that order." —Dr. Simon Tam. A prequel, chronicling Serenity's early travels in the 'verse and Simon's search for and rescue of River. Includes perspectives of all the crew and the special hells they put themselves through.

Disclaimer: I do not own the genius that is Firefly, that honor goes to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Spoilers for series and BDM, canon-level violence

Beta'd by: KrisEleven

Chapter 3: River Cut

The Academy, 2515

"You are quite sure these parameters you've set up will isolate the neural stripping to the amygdale, Dr. Warder? If you are not confident, it would be better to wait. We will not have a chance like this again."

The man speaking was poised on one side of the glowing imager that was at present constructing a three-dimensional model of a human brain. During the past several minutes, his eyes had moved repeatedly between it and the flat screen showing inner slices of the same organ, but now all his attention was on his colleague's face.

The woman on the other side of imager pushed a strand of dark curly hair behind her ear and met his eyes without flinching. "If you are still concerned about the failure of your previous surgeries—"

"Failure is a strong word. You would have precious little data to work with, had we not 'failed' so many times."

Dr. Warder waved a hand. "You need not be indignant on your own account, Dr. Mathias. The errors can be laid squarely at the feet of those who formerly held my position." She placed a finger on the imager, and the outer layers lifted off smoothly, leaving the inner area and the brain stem exposed. "They were content with secondhand information, rather than psychoanalyzing their subjects themselves. This image I've constructed is of course imperfect—I would be surprised if there were enough scientists in the universe to perfectly analyze River Tam's brain—but I have discovered the key elements that will be relevant to you during your surgery."

Dr. Mathias examined the inner brain closely. "I will not lie, it is quite impressive. But I must say I am surprised you did not work from a model of a normal brain, and make adjustments from that base."

"We must not make the assumption that it is the obvious differences that matter when it comes to River." Dr. Warder paused, then added fondly, "And to lose her would be tragic. She's such a wonderful girl."

Dr. Mathias nodded. "Of course. But we can't become attached, you know that. When River completes her training, Parliament will be eager to put her to use."

"I'm quite aware of that," Dr. Warder replied, turning back to the base of the screen. "But it might perhaps have helped if your former colleagues had been more 'attached' to your previous subjects."

"Which means what?"

"Only that the subjects might still be here if they had."

Dr. Mathias shook his head. "No one is more pained by those deaths than I. As I told you when you came to work here, the doctors responsible were properly reprimanded."

Dr. Warder gave a faint half-smile. "At the time, I was unsure if you were reassuring me or warning me what would happen if I were to fail."

"There will be no failure this time. If I cannot prove to Parliament that we are progressing...it could be the end of all this good work."

"Then we must succeed," Dr. Warder agreed. "The government forgets at times that science as well as laws created civilization. I suppose that I still must stay in the dark about the true purpose for the neural stripping?"

"You would suppose correctly." Dr. Mathias fixed his eyes on the construct of the brain, gleaming gently in the light from the imager. "Secrecy is vital. I am not suggesting you are not to be trusted, of course. But one never knows what, or who, may disrupt all our plans."

OoOoO

The assistant surgeon rapped on the doorframe. "Dr. Katsumi Warder? May I come in?"

"Of course." Dr. Warder waved him to a seat. "The last I saw you was a week ago, when you and Dr. Mathias were prepping for the River Tam surgery."

"That's right. Dr. Mathias said you'd expressed concern, since you've been doing psychoanalysis with her. He thought you might want to know that the surgery was an unadulterated success. She isn't awake yet, but that's to be expected."

Dr. Warder let out a breath. "Splendid. He is to be congratulated. And so are you and the other assistants."

"I understand you had no small part in it yourself."

The woman smiled. "For the good of us all. Did he say when my analysis sessions with River would be resuming?"

"Ah, that's the other thing he wanted me to tell you. They won't be."

Dr. Warder frowned. "What do you mean, they won't be?"

The assistant shifted in his chair. "Your psychoanalysis sessions with River Tam won't be resuming."

"You must have misunderstood. Dr. Mathias knows as well as anyone that extensive neural stripping requires concentrated therapy afterwards."

"Oh, he knows that," the assistant said hurriedly. "It's just that you won't be doing the therapy."

"Oh, really? And who will?"

"I didn't ask. He hasn't been in a good mood lately."

"And that's why he neglected to tell me himself that he would be reassigning the sessions?" Dr. Warder snapped, and then what the assistant had said caught up with her. "Wait a moment. You said the surgery was an unadulterated success. Why is Dr. Mathias not in a good mood? He should be bouncing off the walls."

The assistant looked thoroughly miserable. "Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger."

Dr. Warder composed herself. "True. I will speak to Dr. Mathias myself, when an opportunity presents itself."

"That's probably for the best," the assistant agreed, obviously relieved.

OoOoO

River Tam, undisputed genius and intuitive phenomenon, lay on the operating chair in a drug-induced haze, trying to remember how one stopped a hurricane. There was a storm in her head, whirling and roaring and tearing, nerves, synapses, too much, too fast.

They were known on Earth-That-Was as typhoons and tropical cyclones. The most destructive of storms.

It was gone, entirely gone. They cut it out. Her mind like a window with no glass, a porthole in a submersible, a breach in a spaceship hull, letting the nothing in until it crunched the vessel. The images blasted into her center and left her shaking. The breach of a needle in the soft place inside an elbow, a man sobbing uncontrollably and scraping bloody trails across his cheeks with his nails, a woman wrapped in plastic being slid into a disposal, her face crushed to a pulp and beyond recognition, a jar crammed full of human eyes.

They have a core, an eye, where air pressure is low. Around the eye, winds can rotate at nearly two hundred miles per hour.

If only her head would slow down for a moment, she could find that ordered space that was before all she had known, as straight and smooth as well-oiled file cabinets. She could herd the monsters back into their cupboards, but what was the use? She would still know they were there. They would reach out with their claws and shred the curtains she put up to make herself forget, silk like her mother's dresses, silk like Simon's vests, silk like the veil of the Companion the assistant surgeon had visited last night, all oil and sliding limbs and shrieks.

They develop around the equator of a planet with sufficient oceans. Massive storms, they can be over three hundred miles across.

And then she felt the black, outside the planet's protective cushion of atmosphere, and it was unspeakable relief to fall into it, not a thought, not an image, for miles upon miles. Like a rip in her round world, the mouth of some god ready to swallow her, and she begged inwardly to be swallowed, that the stars would eat her—blue giants, white dwarves, red supergiants—reach up and gulp her down, and stop all the pain, the pain she never had been properly able to feel. She saw the planet, hovering like an egg yolk in its shell.

The top clouds are made of ice, the lower ones, droplets of water. The storms are huge circular bands of cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds.

But the images crashed down again, and they weren't hers, the memories weren't hers, they couldn't be. Not some bat out of hell from her own psyche, not some trauma long since forgotten. These shapes—spiders? hands? flowers?—she had no point of reference for these, they couldn't be quantified, they didn't fit into the proper spectrum, they were blue and they were red, and there was a high-pitched hum and a creak like a rocking chair, and suddenly that image was gone and she could hear words with the images.

Though hurricanes soon die out over land, they devastate coastlines. They have been known to kill more than a million people in densely packed urban areas.

"Pens in one cup, styluses in another keep them separated and death will not come." "Blood clogging up my mouth and I was still alive when they shut the lid on me." "We're doing such fine work." "Heart going, heart going for one more second before the lightning kicks, in the gleaming wreath that jerks my pulse away." "Numbers and numbers and numbers and I was wrong how could I have been so wrong." "No one touches me and no one writes to me and I don't know why I had to go away."

River screamed.

To be continued.

roses_and_gargoyles: Most likely spellbooks (Default)

Greetings, at your service. I write Firefly and Shakespeare fanfiction, and also enjoy various visual arts, particularly pysanky eggs (also known as Ukrainian Easter eggs) and sewing.

I have a fairly sizable writing archive, and it'll probably take me some time to get it all up, but below are links to what I've so far been able to publish. More to come! If you're particularly fond of Firefly or Shakespeare, please get in touch, especially if you know of or run any good/active communities.

Hopefully I'll also be able to take some decent pictures of the eggs and my sewing, just so folks know that I don't dwell exclusively in the world of black-and-white print.

FIREFLY

Blackout Zone
Series prequel, chronicles Simon's quest to rescue River, plus Serenity's early travels and extensive mishaps in the 'verse.
Chapter 1: Simon - Code
Chapter 2: Zoe - UDay
Chapter 3: River - Cut

SHAKESPEARE

Usurer's Mercy
Merchant of Venice story. Sometimes the strangest people are merciful, and for the strangest reasons. Dark fic, but ultimately redemptive.
Chapter 1: Nemesis
Chapter 2: Consequences

Enjoy!

roses_and_gargoyles: Most likely spellbooks (Brown and Gold Books)

View List of All Chapters

Summary: "There are two things I'd fight to the death for. My sister and my home, in that order." —Dr. Simon Tam. A prequel, chronicling Serenity's early travels in the 'verse and Simon's search for and rescue of River. Includes perspectives of all the crew and the special hells they put themselves through.

Disclaimer: I do not own the genius that is Firefly, that honor goes to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: Spoilers for series and BDM, canon-level violence

Beta'd by: KrisEleven

Notes: In the timeline of the 'verse I'm using, River went to the Academy early in the year 2515. The events of the series begin in the year 2517. This story is not a exactly a romance, though it does contain a great deal of Zoe/Wash. In the interest of full disclosure: I do occasionally hint at some Kaylee/Inara and some Mal/Simon, but it is in no way rampant, especially as this is decidedly pre-canon.

Translations: Are below.

Jian tal de gui - Like hell

Kewu de lao baojun - Horrible old tyrant

Dang ran - Of course

Zhen de shi tiancai - An absolute genius

Chapter 1: Simon Code

Osiris in the year 2515

All the allegiance propaganda taught in Simon Tam's pro-Alliance school was, in his opinion, redundant. No one with a sister like River needed a lesson in loyalty. Eliminating his social awkwardness would have been much more helpful.

"Excuse me, I didn't catch your—I was wondering if you could, ah—"

The MedAcad student who was the object of Simon's inquiry glanced at him with the same mild surprise he might have used had a snail crossed his path. "Were you talking to me?"

"Yes. Yes, I was. Dr. Robina Mahdavi—she still teaches here, doesn't she? Her room is locked and dark, but this is office hours and I thought—" Simon ordered himself to shut up, and did.

The student threw his friend a look and laughed. "Mahdavi? Seriously? You want to spend more time talking to the Devil than you have to for classes?"

Simon decided not to point out that he didn't attend MedAcad anymore. If Dr. Mahdavi had retained her former nickname, he was in for enough trouble as it was. "If you could just—"

"Oh, sure. They moved her office. It's just down the hall. I'd come back later, though, if I were you. She's in a mood."

"Yes, thank you," Simon replied distractedly, already hurrying towards the door which he could see, upon closer inquiry, bore the name of his former epidemiology professor. Knowing from experience that he would merely be sent away if he knocked, Simon pushed the door open directly.

A drinking cup bounced off his forehead and clattered to the ground. "Get lost, Zhou! I already told you, I'm not going to parade my research for the whims of your trustees." Were it not for the voice, no one would have been able to detect the presence of a human being in the room—it was completely jammed with heavy books, row upon row of bottles, and the latest technology. All was covered but the lab counters; these were scrupulously clean.

"Dr. Mahdavi? It's Simon Tam."

"Oh, really?" A face, framed by brown hair and almost entirely obscured behind a pair of lab goggles, appeared from behind one of the diagnostic machines. "So the Feds let you go after that incident with the statue of Hippocrates, did they?"

"That was over eight months ago."

"Ah, of course. I did hear the AMI thought you were good enough to employ. It's nice some people have sense." Simon smiled despite himself. Compliments from Mahdavi, even obscure ones, were few and far between. "Forgive the cup. That fool Zhou seems to think he runs this academy."

"He does run this academy."

"Jian tal de gui he does. If that man fell in a hole he'd spend his time writing articles on how the rest of us should pull him out of it. You know I hate social visits."

Simon swallowed. It was more difficult than he'd anticipated to share his 'conspiracy theories,' as many no doubt would term them, with another person. River's well-being was too important for him to take mockery over it lightly. "I think I spoke to you once or twice about my sister?"

"Once or twice? You've gotten your understatement down to an art, you have." Mahdavi grabbed a Cortex viewer off a high shelf and began tapping the screen. "Last time I checked, you worshiped the ground she walked on. Jiangyin, I want the set from Jiangyin, where are those stats?"

"She's been sending me coded letters."

Mahdavi didn't look up. "Is that unusual?"

"Yes."

"And what do they say, these coded letters?"

"I don't know. But I was hoping you could help me figure it out."

"Look, whatever game you're playing with—River, isn't it? If it's bothering you enough that you drag yourself in to see a kewu de lao baojun such as myself, you should really be talking to her about it."

"I can't. I haven't seen her in more than six months."

Mahdavi paused in her scrolling. "What? Why?"

"She's been at school. Or at least that's what we think. What we were told." Simon bit the inside of his mouth, cursing himself for not making more inquiries into the Academy while River was still with them. "It was supposed to be a government program. The best one. But she never comes home. We aren't supposed to wave her. It makes the separation easier, they say. All we get are these letters and they don't make any sense. They don't even sound like her."

"But you visited, didn't you?" Mahdavi tossed the viewer into a nearby garden pot and propped up her glasses. "Talked to other families who were sending their children there? Any of them have this problem?"

"We didn't visit," Simon snapped. "They didn't offer, and, because it seems we're idiots, we didn't insist. I did some research after the fact and there's nothing on the Cortex. Nothing. I dug through the Alliance official site for five hours."

"Did you bring the letters?"

"Dang ran." Simon handed her the folder with River's printed-out messages.

Mahdavi accepted it and flipped through the pages. "I'm guessing it isn't a habit of your sister's to misspell words?"

"Not at all. I don't remember the last time anyone managed to prove River wrong...about anything."

"Huh. Isn't there some Earth-That-Was legend about how being too smart makes the demons jealous?" Mahdavi narrowed her eyes. "Who are the D'arbanvilles again? The family that made a fortune off those fake embalming materials from Sihnon?"

Simon blinked. "Fake embalming materials?"

"Yes. Faux myrrh."

"I think you mean fur."

"Sure I do," Mahdavi said absently. "What happened at their ball?"

"The D'arbanvilles don't exist. At least, our family doesn't know them, if they do."

"Simon." Mahdavi peered at him seriously. "If that's the case, you ever think you might not want to hear what your sister's trying to tell you?"

Simon blinked. "No. Why wouldn't I?"

His former professor sighed. "You know what? Never mind. I'm most likely imagining Reavers where there're monkeys with leprosy." The epidemiologist tossed the folder back to Simon, plucked a pen out from the nearest chipped beaker, and handed it to him. "I have an hour or so. Circle any unfamiliar proper nouns. On all the letters. Then we'll get to work."

OoOoO

"All I want to know is if you're alright. Nothing more."

Simon looked at his mother's face in the wave screen. "I am fine. Never been better."

Regan Tam sighed. "Simon, your father and I, we know you're committed to your position. But you aren't a bad doctor if you take some time off once in a while."

"What makes you think I'm not?"

"Dr. Stuart says he has to order you not to come in for longer than your contract covers."

"So?"

"Your contract covers up to sixty hours a week." Simon's mother creased her brow. "And he said you work on wood carvings over your lunch hours."

Simon bristled. "I'm allowed to—"

"You know your father thought it might be compulsive."

"Dad is wrong. My carving is a hobby. It helps me cope when patients don't make it."

"And Aidan and Joanna say you go straight home afterwards, never join them for drinks or socialize like you used to—"

"I'm tired after work, not cutting myself off from the world. I went to visit Dr. Robina Mahdavi today."

Regan smiled a little. "Your old professor? That's nice. How is she?"

"She hasn't changed." Simon paused. "I brought her the letters River sent us. To see if—"

"Oh, Simon, you said you'd stop it with that nonsense."

"All I want to do is be sure." The doctor took a breath. "Look, if there's a code, Dr. Mahdavi will find it. If she doesn't, we'll know there's nothing to worry about. I'm getting a second opinion. Being realistic, as you want me to."

"This is insane." Regan shook her head. "Maybe you needed to say something to us. We're your parents. We're River's parents. But you cannot bring a stranger—"

"She's not a—"

"—into our private business like this."

"I left her copies of River's letters, not our banking statements!"

"I'm worried about you, Simon! Six months ago you would never have—"

"Six months ago I didn't have to worry that I'd never see my sister again!"

Simon knew he'd gone too far as his mother's face went tight. "If I thought we would never see River again," she said coldly, "I'd move heaven and earth to get her back. It is not fair of you to imply I love her less than you do, Simon."

"I'm sorry." Simon gripped the rim of his desk. "I just—I'm scared for her."

"But that's what we're trying to tell you. There is no reason to be scared. And when you see River next, I'm sure she'll tell you that herself."

OoOoO

"Your sister is zhen de shi tiancai." Mahdavi ruffled the edges of River's stacked letters. "I would never have found this code if I hadn't been looking for it."

Simon pressed his palms hard against the professor's immaculate counter. "So there is a code."

"Oh, yes." Mahdavi bit her lip thoughtfully. "But..."

"What?"

The epidemiologist set the letters aside and leaned forward on her elbows. "Listen, Simon. You're a law-abiding citizen."

Simon frowned. "Yes..."

"You've got a good position in society. A job you love. You're able to walk down the street without the fear of being dragged off to jail or some psychiatric institute, or getting shot."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm asking you how much you want to keep all that. Because if you care about being safe more than you care about your sister, I might as well not have cracked this code at all."

Simon held out a hand. "Let me see it. Now."

Wordlessly, Mahdavi handed over the letters. The original writing was barely visible under a swarm of scribbling, but the deciphered code, scrawled in red pencil, was clear enough: the same words, over and over again.

They're hurting us. Get me out. They're hurting us. Get me out. They're hurting us. Get me out...

Go to Next Chapter.

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